Neuroplasticity is the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through regeneration and/or reorganization. When the brain receives a stimulus, it can, with adequate and consistent repetition, “rewire” the brain. In other words, this is what happens when we learn something new. Neuroplasticity takes place every day. Such as when a student learns their multiplication tables through a song, or a pianist practices the same composition. Through consistency and repetition, these tasks make the brain form new pathways, and eventually learn the movements to perform Bach’s Fugue or that 2×2 is 4.
This process can also be used for physical skills. How do you learn to ride a bike? You practice maintaining your balance, holding the handlebars, and using the brakes, until it clicks. Until your feet hit the pedals and your brain immediately knows what to do. Congratulations! By learning to ride a bike, you promoted neuroplasticity.
Think of it like avoiding a blockage in a canal. The waterway acts as the neural pathways to the brain, and the block is preventing the brain from functioning in a certain way. Over time, the water will carve out a new path, routing away from the dam. Soon, the water will flow strong once more, able to travel freely through the canal. Or, in this case, the nervous system.
Leveraging the brain’s ability to repair and/or form new pathways/mechanisms can present new MS rehabilitation options for treating walking difficulty or impaired gait—specifically referred to as neuromodulation therapy.
Neuromodulation therapy uses a targeted stimulus, such as gentle electrical impulses, to engage pathways in the brain and therefore assist with physical learning. For someone with MS, this process would involve using a neuromodulation simulator while performing gait-training exercises guided by a physical rehabilitation specialist, such as a physical or occupational therapist. The combination of the stimulus combined with consistent and repeated physical exercises can develop new pathways and has been proven to improve walking for patients struggling with gait deficit.
Are you interested in learning more about neuroplasticity or neuromodulation therapy? Talk to your doctor to see if neuromodulation therapy is the right option for you or your loved ones living with MS.